Commentary

For first time in a decade, access to a critical program for youth is at risk

October 17, 2022 5:39 am
Executive Council chamber

The Executive Council Chamber in the New Hampshire State House. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

As the chief officer for integrated health services and the director of community-integrated health and well-being at Amoskeag Health, we are writing today about a critically important program that is in jeopardy of being discontinued without reauthorization by New Hampshire’s Executive Council. We would like to take the opportunity to inform the public of what the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) does.

Amoskeag Health is a federally qualified health center serving 14,163 patients and 5,259 children, and employing 190 dedicated employees. We deliver an array of integrated primary care, preventive, and social services, and serve a diverse patient population who speak 62 different languages.

In partnership with the state, Amoskeag Health and TLC Family Resource Center facilitate PREP in Manchester and Claremont. These cities have the highest teen birth rates in the state. Our curriculum, which studies show has resulted in 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls engaging in sex compared with their peers, incorporates a balanced approach of abstinence and contraception, and is geared toward adolescents at the highest risk for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Through this program, we reach youth who are homeless, in foster care, living with HIV and AIDS, living in areas with high teen birth rates, and victims of human trafficking.

PREP is more than a sexual health education program; it centers on personal responsibility. We teach students a variety of life skills to help them become employable and reduce negative influences in their lives, such as the threat of domestic violence and gun violence. Through the program they can receive extended learning opportunity credits for high school graduation and referrals for health care and other services like substance use disorder treatment, tobacco cessation, and mental health care. Students under 21 years old who are pregnant or parenting learn ways to help develop healthy relationships. Participation in PREP has always required parental permission and encourages ongoing parental involvement as integral to achieving positive outcomes.

New Hampshire is doing well in the national rankings for unintended pregnancy and teen pregnancy rates, and PREP is one of the main tools our state relies on to target communities that need resources the most. Due to its positive impact on the community, the program has enjoyed bipartisan support in New Hampshire’s executive and legislative branches for nearly 10 years, until recently. On Oct. 4, for a second time, three out of five members of the Executive Council (which must approve all state contracts over $10,000) stalled federal funds from the Family and Youth Services Bureau that provide a life-changing health education for our teen and young adult population.

We are extremely concerned that a failure to fund PREP would have an immeasurable harmful impact on our organization, our community, and – most of all – the 975 adolescents this program would serve for the next three years. With rates of sexually transmitted diseases on the rise nationally, half of which are diagnosed in young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and a barrage of misinformation readily available on the internet, it is our responsibility as parents and health care providers to ensure that children have access to a comprehensive curriculum that teaches them responsible behavior. Turning down these already-allocated federal dollars is a missed opportunity to continue this investment in our local communities and our state.

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Betsy Burtis
Betsy Burtis

Betsy Burtis is the chief officer for integrated health services at Amoskeag Health in Manchester.

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Lara Quiroga
Lara Quiroga

Lara Quiroga is the director of community-integrated health and well-being at Amoskeag Health in Manchester.

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